Escalation: Senate committee votes to order Pentagon to rename all military assets currently named after Confederates

I can’t believe how blatantly Democrats are baiting Trump to go all-in on this issue and how he’s actually taking the bait.

Yesterday Pelosi sent around a letter calling for statutes of Confederate figures in the Capitol to be removed. The day before that, Elizabeth Warren announced that she’d use her position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to purge the military of Confederate tributes — not just by renaming bases but by renaming all assets, like ships, whose names celebrate the CSA.

What’s clever about that bill is how it potentially drives a wedge between Trump and Republicans in Congress. There’s a spectrum of GOP opinion on this issue in the House and Senate, I’d guess: Some are happy to see Confederate names stripped, some are indifferent but willing to do it to ingratiate themselves to swing voters, and some are either worried about the politics in red states or flatly unwilling. Democrats want to get Republicans fighting over Confederate iconography in a bright media spotlight at a moment when the country is momentarily trending more liberal on issues related to race. And if they can get Trump involved in that fight, so much the better. That’s the point of Pelosi’s letter, I think: The more they can goad Trump into defending Confederate symbols, the more they can use it against him and ultimately against downballot Republicans. Every Republican in the House and Senate will potentially be forced to say whether they side with (gasp) the Confederacy or with (gasp) the Democrats against Trump.

If you’re a Republican in a non-southern state, do you embrace this image or run from it?

Warren’s proposal was an amendment to the defense bill that Congress is currently working on, which makes it even more potent. That bill, which funds the Pentagon, has passed every year for 59 straight years. If Republicans were to try to block it this year because of Warren’s amendment, they’ll be shredded by Dems and the press for treating Confederate nomenclature for the U.S. military as a more urgent priority than actually funding the U.S. military. Better to kill the amendment quietly in committee than add it to the final bill and force a big showdown over it. Surprisingly, though, the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee approved Warren’s amendment today via voice vote — despite Trump’s warning yesterday that he’ll never agree to rename American bases.

The committee adopted an amendment to the annual Pentagon policy bill that gives the Defense Department three years to remove the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military assets, according to a source familiar with the closed-door proceedings.

The language, adopted by voice vote as President Donald Trump preemptively threatened to veto any defense bill that did just that, affects massive bases like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia. But it also goes further and includes everything from ships to streets on Defense Department property…

[Trump’s] effective veto threat sets up a standoff with Capitol Hill, with House Democrats likely to advance similar provisions in that chamber’s defense authorization, especially after the Senate committee action.

“Republican leaders acknowledged Thursday that they are in a difficult spot” after the amendment passed, CNN reported. Now anything they do makes for awkward optics. If they try to strip the amendment out of the final bill they’ll be forced to explain why an anti-Confederate measure with bipartisan support offended them. If they vote down the bill because Warren’s amendment was included, the media will have a field day with GOPers holding up military funding in the name of defending Confederate generals. If they pass the bill and send it to Trump’s desk, Trump will veto it and the party will end up being accused of holding up military funding in the name of defending Confederate generals anyway.

This is exactly the reaction Democrats want from him, forcing Republicans to die foolishly on this hill:

The least painful option for House and Senate Republicans would be to pass the bill with veto-proof majorities. In a way, that would be a win/win. Trump would get to burnish his “politically incorrect” cred by vetoing the bill and congressional Republicans would get to distance themselves from him on the subject. The Pentagon would be funded. Are there enough GOPers in either chamber willing to join with Democrats and defy Trump, though, even when it’s in their own political interest to do so?

Here’s the biggest “tell” of how awkward this debate is for the party. It takes a lot to get Kevin McCarthy to separate himself from Trump, especially on a culture-war issue in which the president is vocally invested. But even he’s leaving open the possibility of Republicans supporting a bill to de-Confederate military bases.

He also said today that he’d support a bill banning chokeholds by police. I don’t think Trump’s commented on that yet; normally it’s unlike McCarthy to get ahead of the president on legislation. Clearly (and correctly) he’s concluded that politics on race relations and police reform favor a little more conciliation than Trump is willing to give. So he’s creating a little space for his caucus to compromise.

Here’s what remains of the statue of Jefferson Davis that was toppled last night in the capitol of the Confederacy. Note that over the weekend the Marine Corps banned all displays of the Confederate flag on Marine installations. The military is somewhat ahead of the Democrats on this.